on champagne and learning to walk

Preston bought me a nice bottle of champagne tonight. The kind of bottle that means we are having a big celebration, that there is something amazing deserving of the best feasts. We drove to buy the champagne after I finished class for the day, just after I got my comprehensive exam results. Our exams are graded; I got an A-.

While Preston drove, he declared that this was worthy of that nice bottle of champagne. I called it “pretty good.”

What he wanted to celebrate, I wanted to say only, well, I passed. 

I couch my pride in a constant future improvement, I feel good only if I get the chance to do even better next time. But of course, there is no next time for comprehensive exams. That’s part of the joy, isn’t it? It should be. But there I was, holding the nice champagne in its paper sack in the passenger seat, calling it only “pretty good.”

What is it about the future that dulls the shine of the present? What is it about the possibility of something even better that makes the real somehow less glorious than God has declared it to be?

I told someone this summer that, Jack? He is the real. He is what my ideals give way before. The ideals of me as a mother in her all-natural, breastfeeding, right-kinds-of-product and no-screen-time and … glory. That sheen of imagined glory. I said that Jack has cut through it all. He looks at me and I give way. I give way to his real laugh, that dolphin squeak of joy over his trach. He looks at me and I give way, I give way to the goodness of the formula that keeps him growing, the screens that bring him people telling stories in ASL, in a language that he already seems to love. I give way to the real of his life.

Why won’t I let Jack cut through the sheen of my imagined glory as a student?

Why do I hold the nice champagne and permit myself only to say “pretty good”?

This is the summer where Jack first started to learn to walk. He pulled himself up onto chairs, plastic toy tables that make over 1,000 unique noises, along precarious couch cushions. He fell and he pulled back up and he banged his hands against the surface and he laughed.

This is the summer where I sat down to watch him learn how to walk. I could have given that up, I could have studied 30 more hours a week, I could have spent my time grasping the sheen of the student I think I ought to be.

And when I first saw the A-, I said to myself, you could have, you should have. 

Jack was learning to walk. He wanted to hold my hands in the dining room and cross the floor on two feet. He wanted to be held and then to launch himself away from my chest to grab the icon of St. Michael that hangs on the wall near his door. Jack was learning to play peek-a-boo with me. Jack was ripping my copy of Marx and Wittgenstein in his frenzy to stand up independently, pulling my high stack of books down around him.

Was all that only pretty good? Was all that not worth the champagne, the celebration?

I am learning to walk, too. I am learning to walk down that well-worn path and answer myself differently. Was it only pretty good? No, it was more. It was the fullness of what I had, it was pouring out the hours, the understanding, the work. It was spilling out onto the altar the hours I had spent – standing bent double to anchor my son’s first steps – perched in a chair on the second floor of the philosophy building reading and rereading Kierkegaard, Mill, Hume – worrying myself sick over Heidegger and misunderstanding Marx – singing a human being to sleep.

I am rewalking the well-worn path and saying something new. It isn’t just pretty good, it is good, full stop. I gave way to the real of my son’s life. I gave way, but I did not give up. I gave way, but I did not give in. I gave way, but the way was still full, still fruitful, still full-stop good.


We popped the champagne, we laughed and kissed Jack and watched him try to pull St. Michael off the wall.

This is good. Full stop.



8 thoughts on “on champagne and learning to walk

  1. As always, beautiful words that I needed to hear. Thank you for writing them and for sharing them. And congratulations on finishing comps! Well done!

  2. Oh, YES. Embrace the real of your beautiful boy, and your own beautiful, multi-faceted self. As a midlife sem student, I had to do this, too. An A- was good, fledging grown kids into happy, fruitful marriages was very good. Running a small floral business was real. Reading and paper-writing are good things, but they are not LIFE. So glad you are celebrating yours.

  3. Hilary!!!

    I’m *so* impressed with your tenacity and resolve. Heck! I’m so impressed with your grade.

    A-??? Are you kidding me??? How in the actual did you pull that off in the middle of LIFE and a toddler and marriage?

    You are amazing in so many ways.

    But I’m mostly impressed by your heart.

    You love people so well. A++++++++ in my humble (albeit cyber) opinion.

    I hope I learn to love (my husband and baby) well, as I go about the messy business of pursuing my goals as beautifully as you do.

    You’re my hero, my girl crush, my standard for marvellous.

    Love you from afar,

  4. Wow. Truly beautiful, Hilary. I rejoice in how you are both an outstanding mother and student. I know it’s not easy, but you are doing it with great grace.

  5. Oh, I loved this one as I have loved all the others but never comment. Thank you for sharing, dear Hilary! And, if you ever want to talk Heidegger (or any of the other Continental philosopher crazies), Chris would thoroughly love it (his dissertation was on him and Schelling). Much love to you three beautiful people! Christy

  6. Thanks for this, Hilary. Your good words are shushing the inner critic in my own head today, and reminding me to really see the good, and I needed that. Congrats on your comps and hooray for all those beautiful milestones. Abbie’s still sticking to crawling here.

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